Could losing weight give the brain a boost?
The answer is yes, if researchers at the School of Medicine at the University of São Paulo in Brazil are correct.
It’s a weighty issue. In the U.S., for instance, the obesity rate for 2014 stands at 27.7 percent, according to new Gallup data. That’s up from the 2013 rate of 27.1 percent, the highest annual rate ever measured.
Researchers in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the university conducted a study which demonstrated that the effects of obesity on the brain are reversible and can be countered with weight loss.
Titled “Changes in Neuropsychological Tests and Brain Metabolism After Bariatric Surgery,” the study was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. It had one clear objective: “to assess the effect of bariatric surgery on the cognitive function and cerebral metabolism.”
Getting rid of excess fat — in the case of the study, through weight loss surgery — can reverse diminution in brain agility caused by obesity, and to improve cognitive abilities related to planning, strategizing, and organizing.
Does that mean weight loss can make a person smarter? Not exactly. It’s more a matter of removing the impediments precipitated by obesity that keep people from being as smart (in the sense of brain efficiency) as they actually are.
In a word, excess weight makes our bodies work harder in all kinds of areas — including the brain.
The researchers examined the brains of 17 obese women with PET scan technology and neuropsychiatric evaluations before and after bariatric surgery. The Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass surgeries reduced stomach size and/or trimmed the length of the patients’ small intestines, which were expected to restrict the amount of food the women could consume before feeling full.
The surgeries led to lower weight, of course — but did even more than that. The women also performed more capably on executive function tests. It additionally helped regulate the physiology of the posterior cingulate gyrus, which is closely linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our findings suggest the brain is another organ that benefits from weight loss induced by surgery,” noted Dr. Cintia Cercato, a member of the research team. “The increased brain activity the obese women exhibited before undergoing surgery did not result in improved cognitive performance, which suggests obesity may force the brain to work harder to achieve the same level of cognition.”
Neuroscientists and others are learning more and more about the effects that excessive body weight can cause. In the case of this study, it appears clear that obesity may affect not only the image in the mirror, but also the optimal working of the mind.